Gardens, Greenspace and Health Project is a participatory design, implementation and research project in the informal settlement of Eliseo Collazos, Lima, Peru Residents constructed twenty-‐nine household gardens in partnership with an interdisciplinary team of health researchers and designers. Gardens are improving physical, mental, social, economic and environmental health in this impoverished urban community.
Over 3 million people in Lima live in informal urban ‘slums’. Eliseo Collazos is one such informal settlement in northern Lima. First settled about 5 years ago and rapidly growing, Eliseo Collazos has about 94 households and a population of about 400. Most residents have not achieved tenure and many lack adequate electricity or water infrastructure. Eliseo Collazos residents are chronically unemployed or underemployed, with more than 80% of households making less than $9/day and 1/3 making less than $4.50/day. The average adult has about 9 years of education. Over 90% of residents are women or children, with only 7% married. Over half of residents report having an ongoing illness, and many display symptoms of depression, malnutrition, respiratory illnesses and anti-social behavior.
The Eliseo Collazos neighborhood is currently a barren desert landscape with little to no flora or fauna due to destructive deforestation, mining and urbanization, however historically it thrived as a delicate ‘lomas’ fog-fed ecosystem. The majority of residents migrated from rural communities in the highlands or rainforest and residents report missing their home landscapeswithlush productive greenery. These combined landscape and human memories formed the basis of the Garden, Greenspace and Health project. In a series of participatory workshops, residents identified greenspace and food security as top priorities in their community; the Gardens, Greenspace and Health project responds to these priorities as an initial step towards the expansion of greenspace, agriculture and ecological restoration in and around the Eliseo Collazos community.
The Participatory Design and Implementation Process
Residents signed up voluntarily for the Gardens, Greenspace and Health project. A series of participatory design and implementation workshops helped the twenty-nine participating residents imagine configurations, materials and plants for their household gardens. Residents were in control of the design, construction and care of their own gardens, with the Project Team providing expertise to guide them through garden design, construction and maintenance through a series of demonstration workshops using local experts and skilled community members. Residents were trained and given a maintenance manual and a list of key local contacts to help sustain their gardens.
During an initial design workshop, participants drew the household gardens they wanted and chose elements, materials and plants they hoped to include in their designs. Based upon this information, along with understanding the limited construction skills of residents and the reality of a limited budget, students developed a low cost modular garden kit which included:
1) precast concrete ‘grey infrastructure’ water utility risers repurposed as ‘green infrastructure’ modular planters and water-saving wicking beds;
2) walls and paths constructed with local stone;
3) prefabricated wooden fences, trellises and arbors and;
4) various types of ornamental and edible vegetation. Students then devised a modeling exercise using to-scale components of various sizes and colors that represented different elements of the garden modules so residents could visualize their garden design. Students then translated models into site plans and ordered materials and residents constructed their gardens, with students guiding them when they needed design or construction assistance. Residents learned how to reuse household greywater and build water-saving wicking beds. The project team researched and installed fog collectors inthe hills above the community to investigate how gardens could be irrigated with fog water as a sustainable water source, and community members were trained in the use and operation of the collectors.
Health and Design Research
Spanish-fluent health students collected baseline data (July 2013) on participant health and wellbeing through a questionnaire, focus groups and physical measurements including blood pressure, height, weight, waist circumference and blood glucose. Data was again collected at 6 months (March 2014) and will be collected at 1 year (Sept 2014) after garden construction to assess the changes in physical and mental wellbeing of participants. Residents determined ‘indicators’ that would be used to assess the success of the project and their own health; these indicators included environment, health, happiness, relaxation, aesthetics and nutrition. Additionally, residents were given a weekly ‘garden diary’ to fill out to document their physical garden designs, maintenance practices, harvesting outcomes, and challenges and benefits of their household gardens. This combined health and design data will be used to evaluate project physical and health outcomes, feasibility of garden projects in informal settlements and harshenvironments, and the ability of design to act as ‘preventive healthcare’ in communities of low resources. Research results are being shared locally and globally to communicate these findings.
Inital Project Outcomes
In total, project design and implementation unfolded over a 6 week period with a materials budget of under $6,000. The gardens have transformed many of Eliseo Collazos’ houses. Although they were constructed by individual families, the front yard gardens contribute to a shared public realm and community greening. The variety of garden configurations, colors, and plants build upon and enrich the informal, accretive beauty of the community and reinforce its unique identity. Gardens are producing food, herbs, medicine and ornament. Residents are both taking care of and benefitting from them as sources of mental and social wellbeing, nutrition and income. Many participant households have expanded their gardens and a few households not enrolled in the project have constructed their own gardens. The project is contributing to public education about horticulture, food, climate change, sustainable water sources, building techniques, environmental stewardship and more. Additionally, the project has made a significant impact on children in the community. Joel, an 11 year old from Eliseo Collazos, won 1st place at the Pitagoras School Science Fair for his fog collection and garden project.